Indiana University Northwest

Professor James B. Lane

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Book Reviews - Peter Barton's: Not Fade Away

Not Fade Away: A Short Life Well Lived

Laurence Shames and Peter Barton Memoir
Reviewed by James B. Lane

A heartbreaking but uplifting account of a bizarre but enormously successful entrepreneur coping with terminal gastrointestinal cancer.

"Disorder in the house, all bets are off." Warren Zevon

Peter Barton's life up to December, 7, 1998, was a baby boomer's fantasy come true: counter-culture musician, ski bum, and casino card dealer becomes a political activist for New York Governor Hugh Carey, then gets an MBA from Harvard and goes on to head Liberty Mutual, a cable TV empire that developed Home Shopping Network, Discovery Channel, and MTV. He considered himself blessed to have come of age during a time of peace, prosperity, rock & roll, and "free love that wouldn't kill you." Then the nightmare began.

His father having died at age 45, Barton resigned his prestigious position in order to be with his wife and three kids and embark on new adventures. He contracted cancer, seemingly had it licked, and then it was back, an ominous shadow on a CT scan. Rather than deal immediately with the bad news, he went to a Rolling Stones concert. The final encore was a tune by Buddy Holly, who had succumbed 29 years earlier in a plane crash (the day the music died, according to Don McLean's American Pie). Caught up in the communal moment, Peter sang the chorus, "Love is love and not fade away," until hoarse and sobbing.

Lean and spare, Barton's collaboration with Esquire ethics columnist Laurence Shames is remarkably free of self-pity or sentimentality. An exuberant free spirit who had changed course whenever life became humdrum, near death he pushed his emaciated body to take a nostalgic balloon ride and Caribbean cruise and, later, to play a piano medley and pool at a time when the tumor had grown so robust its outline was crescent-shaped, "like some appalling rind." Let it be said, he lived by his own terms and died with dignity.

Highly recommended, but have plenty of tissues nearby.

  • Rodale, Emmaus, Pa., 2003, 224 pages, $22.95, ISBN 1-57954-688-9